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Keeping blots off Zimbabwe's record

Zimbabwe's fledgling independent regime has with one stroke caused two concerns about whether it will continue the generally moderate and englightened course that has won somewhat surprised respect from the world. Threats to both free enterprise and freedom of the press have been seen in the regime's takeover , in effect, of the country's five major newspapers. Prime Minister Mugabe, with his apparent sensitivity to maintaining Zimbabwe's reputation, would be well advised to ensure that neither threat materializes.

There was evidently nothing untoward about Zimbabwe's buying out the 40 percent shareholdings of a South African press group in the newspaper chain. It was not the kind of expropriation or swooping physical eviction sometimes suffered by the news media in the aftermath of revolution.

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But some worry that other private enterprises, such as white-owned farms, might be taken over. So far Mr. Mugabe, despite Marxist leanings, has seemed to see the economic benefits of free enterprise -- and of encouraging whites not to emigrate.

As for the free press, the purchased shareholdings are designed for a mass media trust with directors named by the regime. Thus the newspapers could go the way of state-controlled broadcasting. Will the temptation to manipulate them for governmental purposes be avoided?

The answer is important not only in the eyes of the world but for Zimbabwe's own good. It speaks to one of the most serious challenges to emerge in all the current United Nations controversy over the proper role and treatment of the third world press: the need to provide the people of a given country with sufficient fair and accurate information about their own landm for effective citizenship. It would be short-sighted for Zimbabwe to limit its citizens' information options when it should be expanding them.

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